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Tuesday, 09 December
2008's Dumbest Song Announced!

Here today on Izzle Pfaff--your go-to blog for when you just simply need to read something with an idiotic name--I'd like to introduce what I hope to turn into an annual feature: I would like to present to you 2008's stupidest song lyrics. THIS YEAR'S BIG WINNER: Indie band The Airborne Toxic Event, for their lyrics to the song "Sometime Around Midnight"!

Let's go right to the honey.

And it starts, sometime around midnight.
Or at least that's when you lose yourself
for a minute or two.
As you stand, under the bar lights.
And the band plays some song
about forgetting yourself for a while.
And the piano's this melancholy soundtrack to her smile.
And that white dress she's wearing
you haven't seen her for a while.

But you know, that she's watching.
She's laughing, she's turning.
She's holding her tonic like a cross
The room's suddenly spinning.
She walks up and asks how you are.
So you can smell her perfume.
You can see her lying naked in your arms.

And so there's a change, in your emotions.
And all these memories come rushing
like feral waves to your mind.
Of the curl of your bodies,
like two perfect circles entwined.
And you feel hopeless and homeless
and lost in the haze of the wine.

Then she leaves, with someone you don't know.
But she makes sure you saw her.
She looks right at you and bolts.
As she walks out the door,
your blood boiling
your stomach in ropes.
Oh and when your friends say,
"What is it? You look like you've seen a ghost."

Then you walk, under the streetlights.
And you're too drunk to notice,
that everyone is staring at you.
You just don't care what you look like,
the world is falling around you.

You just have to see her.
You just have to see her.
You just have to see her.
You just have to see her.
You just have to see her.
You know that she'll break you in two.

Okay, before we even start in on this terrible set of affairs: when a band's title references Don DeLillo's White Noise--surely one of the most respected novels of the past 25 years--one expects to see, lyrically, the A game. What we have here is surely what can only be described, at best, as a band's R game. This is like filming "The Stanley Kubrick Bozack Experiment" and then showing three hours of international test patterns.

And then there's the title: "Sometime Around Midnight." Do you suppose that the band was slyly referencing JJ Cale's "After Midnight"? Or Thelonius Monk's " 'Round Midnight"? Or do you suppose that the title simply reflects the hard sort of thinking that leads to razor-sharp observations such as "the band plays some song" or a white dress that the singer hasn't seen in "a while"? I have my own guesses.

Sonically, it's not a terrible song. It's not a good song, by any means, but it certainly is better than these terrible lyrics. It begins with an oddly downsweeping string figure, whose motif is repeated later in the song when it gets, like, dramatic, man, but by then the lead singer has adopted a particularly strangled style of vocalization that leads the amateur diagnostician to suspect a thoracic fistula, and anyway, by the time you get there, if you've paid attention to what the man has been saying, you're praying for death yourself. But the tune lurches along somewhat compulsively for all that; it wouldn't be out of place on a Coldplay album in a universe where Gwyneth Paltrow let Chris Martin chastely spank her every now and then.

But there's no getting past those lyrics.

The first stanza sets the tone: the singer is a chronic alcoholic! I guess. Which, if you're Brendan Behan is pretty awesome, but if you're, say, anyone else, is pretty terrible. As he stands "under the bar lights"--as opposed to on the bar lights, or inside them--he notices that a band is playing "some song" and then he sees his old girlfriend in a white dress he hasn't seen in "a while." Hey, enough with the excruciating details! We don't need to know everything!

The second verse is actually the least offensive of all of them, and that's saying something, considering it contains the phrase "She's holding her tonic like a cross." Over her shoulder? Nailed to her wrists? Clasped reverentially near her chest? I'm going to go with the last one, because I really enjoy breasts. At any rate, this sort of aimless grope at religious imagery is comically hopeless. It might be my favorite line of all.

Wait, just kidding! Honestly, this is my very favorite line: "And so there's a change, in your emotions." Has a person's mental state ever been so incisively, so pithily described? Why, just the other day, when the wife asked me, "How are you dealing with the death of several of your friends who all perished in a terrible bus accident?" I replied, "There's been a change in my emotions." She nodded her head and said, "I know exactly how you feel."

It's at this point during the song when the listener is forced to ask himself: "Why are the lyrics in the present second person?" And the listener replies to himself: "Because it adds to the horribleness."

This verse is where the frenzy starts. What could the phrase "memories come rushing
like feral waves to your mind" possibly mean? I used to body surf a lot when I was a kid; I never encountered a feral wave. I do like that the singer specifies that the memories rush to "your mind," as opposed to, say, your skin. Another good one is "like two perfect circles entwined." If circles entwine, don't they stop being circles? Listen, I'm not a topologist, though I'm trying. Maybe he wanted "toruses," but didn't want to confuse listeners or doughnut consumers.

Oh, the next verse is another bore, though it doesn't skimp on the inane cliches--"blood boiling," "you look like you've seen a ghost." Hmmm. Niggling point here, but wouldn't someone whose blood was at a boil look exactly the opposite of someone who had seen a ghost? Oh, never mind. This song is terrible. By now, the string figure is in full deployment, and the singer sounds as if he's being eaten feet-first by Nyarlathotep.

And then there's the end, where the singer wails insistently that "You just have to see her" five times, and then concludes that having done that, you know that she'll just "break you in two." Someday, I'm sure Donald Fagen or someone will write some knotty song about being broken into three, or broken into an algebraically complicated set of numbers to be debated by Marilyn vos Sant and the Mythbusters, but for now, you are, once again, forced to deal with being broken in two.

This is really embarrassing.

Listen, I know that there are any number of worthy candidates out there--I can practically hear people screaming "WAIT! What about 'My Humps?' " or whatever (I know, not really on the timeline) and whatnot, but really, what I'm after here is songs that genuinely pretend to be a step above and fail ridiculously. I'm confident in my choice. I'm rubbing my hands, 2009! Don't let me down. I know you won't.

Monday, 07 May
And He Was

I'm back from Chicago, but I'm afraid I just don't have the heart to write a bunch of nasty bullshit about it today. Today we lost Howard Bulson, one of the sweetest men I ever had the privilege to appear on stage with.

Thank God that I didn't have to sing in front of him--God knows he didn't need any more of that misery, although he certainly heard worse in his time. I remember his immaculate white suits; I remember his out-of-time polite courtliness with ladies: once, while smoking with him and a female cast member in the back alley behind the Rendevous, we were set upon by a young guy looking for a smoke. The young guy started a line of patter with the actress, a lot of ridiculous nonsense along the lines of "Damn, girl, you look good! You're a house on fire!" etc. etc. Howard drawled laconically, "Say, who writes your material?"

I remember how, when he showed up for the first musical rehearsal, we told him what material we needed him to play, and after an hour or so, he excused himself. "I've got it," he said, and left. We looked at each other worriedly. This was like worrying that Albert Pujols would forget what a baseball looked like or Carlos Mencia forgetting what it's like to be an intolerable asshole. He showed up at the next rehearsal unruffled and had, in fact, remodulated many of the songs so that they were more easily sung by the cast members. Without being asked to, without suggestion. And, apparently, without effort.

Friday would have been his 73rd birthday. We were going to have such a party in his honor; we knew he was sick, terribly sick. He had pancreatic cancer. But it got him before we could get there. As usual, it wasn't Howard's timing that was off: it was ours. Missed it by that much. If Howard were still here, he'd gently tell us to start over, from the beginning. We'd get it this time. And if we didn't, Howard would say, That's all right. We'll do it again.

We're still going to get together, I think. We have to. It's not a party any more . . . I suppose it's a wake. We'll get together this weekend and celebrate a life, and what a life: a life of behind-the-scenes, a life of accompaniment, a life spent making other people look much better than they might have otherwise. What could be nobler?

Good night, Howard. The songs are still here to be played, but I don't think they're going to sound right any more without you. Come back, and all is forgiven for you having left us. Come back so we can say, That's all right. We'll do it again.

Thursday, 11 January
The Ten Most Embarrassing Songs On My iPod

So this Christmas the wife brought me screaming into 2002 and bought me an iPod. (I had owned an off-brand MP3 player before; it was a blocky little doodad that held about five songs and died in as many months. It was the Benjamin Harrison of MP3 players.) So I've been having a ridiculously good--by which I mean "stupid"--time pillaging my CD collection ("I forgot I owned that! I forgot this band existed!") and iTunes. The latter in particular is very insidious. For 99 cents, you can find practically any stupid fucking song ever recorded . . . sort of. For example, looking up "Maybe I'm Amazed" brings up . . . Jem. From the soundtrack to "The O.C." What? Who cares! It's 99 cents! How bad could it be?

Well . . .

Anyway, like I said, I terrorize iTunes now and again, because, as you will soon see, I'll buy practically anything. Much like, well, everybody.

You know how everyone likes to claim that their musical tastes are "eclectic?" "Oh, I like everything, really." Which is complete bullshit. People may have affinities for certain genres, but by and large, since music is so broad and people are so weird, chances are that they're going to like a lot of other stuff here and there as well. So the fact that I enjoy Lyle Lovett and Alison Krauss a lot does not make me a country fan; it makes me a guy who normally despises country music that happened to find a couple of singular countryish outliers. Everybody has "eclectic" musical tastes, to the extent that everybody can be pleasantly surprised by something unexpected, but it's essentially a meaningless thing we tell ourselves to fool us into thinking we're more broad-minded than we actually are.

This list will also give the lie to any claim I could try and put on the "eclectic" label (and it's a line I've used in the past--it's practically required for college students). I'm pretty obviously just a fan of pop. Oh well. But here are the songs that I am most embarrassed to have on my iPod. And I'm not getting rid of them soon.

10.
"I'm No Angel," Gregg Allman.

It's mainly only embarrassing because, as you will come to see, it's entirely emblematic of my penchant for falling in love with inconsequential, little-heard minor pop near-hits. I don't think it's a bad song qua song, but it's not got a lot going for it either. Fuckers like "I'm No Angel" is why iTunes is so lethal, and why it might ruin some of the coolness of radio in the long run. Over the past ten or fifteen years, I could count on one hand the times I heard this song on the radio, squealing, "Oh, man, I love this weird tune!" Now I can play it whenever I want. That's somehow . . . lamer. I won't again be surprised by this little not-much of a tune, and if I am, it will only be to note, "Oh, weird, I'm hearing this somewhere other than my iPod."

It's kind of charming, though. It's a song about a guy--a guy much like Gregg Allman--who is wooing a woman clearly out of his league. "I might steal your diamonds but I'll bring you gold," he sings, which is not only alarming, but also arguably not a strong economic argument. But my favorite line I find sort of touching. "Come on, baby," he sings, "Come and let me show you my tattoo." Awwwwwwwww. You know he really means it.

9.
"Switchin' to Glide," The Kings

Canadian one-hit-wonders ahoy! Another example of a song I probably heard like five times over the past twenty years, but now I can listen to it over and over until I get some sort of Canadian ear disease. (Though true story: I karaoke'd this song once, and all the plants in the bar died.) What can you say about the Kings? You can say that band members included such names as David Diamond and Mr. Zero! Most bands can't say that! In fact, their keyboard player was named . . . Sammy Keyes!

Another thing you can say is that they recorded this song!

It's just straightforward power pop, but that chorus is some hook, boy. It's mostly that I don't know what I'll have to say to someone if they, for some reason, examine the songs on my iPod and ask me who the fuck the Kings are. You have to realize that I think about things like this.

8.
"Govinda," Kula Shaker

One of the worst things about being an up-and-coming British band must be the realization that, sooner or later, the British musical press might sink their teeth into you. How many shellshocked English bands litter the historical battlefield of musical journalism, lionized by the British press one moment and then eating off-brand dog food a year later? This is what happened to Kula Shaker, an amusing if derivative bunch of fellows who made the sort of music George Harrison would have enjoyed if he had taken a temporal and stylistic left turn and joined Winger. "Govinda" is, typically, an Indian-smushed-into-Beatles vulgar mess, overwrought and overstuffed and overloved by me, at least for a few months at a time.

5-7.
"Since You're Gone," The Cars
"Since You Been Gone," Rainbow
"Since U Been Gone," Kelly Clarkson

So! Did I download these all at the same time or what? Ha!

Yeah. I did. And yes, I do like all these fucking songs.

I don't know if it's some weird neuronal thing, but my brain loves to find stupid connections like this, which leads me to wonder if there's something else going on behind my inexplicable love for songs by a New Wave-y pop band, a metal-ly pop band and a cockapoo. There must be. Once I excitedly called a radio station--who at the time was playing a gimmick set of songs that shared the same title--to inform the nonplussed DJ that Midnight Oil, Depeche Mode, Erasure and My Bloody Valentine all had songs titled "Sometimes"!

"We don't play any of those bands," he said.

4.
"Attack Ships On Fire," Revolting Cocks

Ah, my fake-industrial years. This song is the version from the live CD You Goddamned Son of a Bitch, whose album art features a Wheel of Fortune wheel littered with barely-redacted porn shots and the immortal liner note, "Remember, RevCo is making the world a better place for you and your hog bitch girlfriend."

I was too much of a wimp-o to really be a true industrial fan. (I felt so tough buying an Einstürzende Neubauten album, and secretly hated myself when I found it to be utterly unlistenable. The cover art of an ejaculating horse probably didn't help.) I instead opted for the industrial-lite metallic bleatings of grouches like Nine Inch Nails, Nitzer Ebb (Hi, Rory) and the Revolting Cocks. This song is pure nostalgia for me, and it has the dork appeal of taking its title from Blade Runner.

3.
"Black Betty," Ram Jam

This is actually a Leadbelly song, which is what makes this so deeply embarrassing: I have this and not the Leadbelly version.

Honestly? I could give a shit about the blues. Most of it I find to be a total bore; all those scratchy old recordings, all that tinny warbling over fumbling guitar strangulation. I'm one ignorant motherfucker, I know. I just can't get into it. It's embarrassing.

It's particularly embarrassing, because admitting that you don't like the blues means that you have no appreciation for the basis of rock, and it's embarrassing because it seems vaguely racist, at least to certain way-too-into-it white guys who self-consciously revere their old blues vinyl by unheard-of artists like No-Shoes Davey and Lacks-Proprioception Gavin.

Fine. I admit all of it. I'm a philistine and a schmuck and I have the ears made of wool. Whatever. I just don't care for the blues. I said it.

And as if to prove my worthlessness, I like this idiotic song. I know it's idiotic. I can hear the idiocy. And yet.

2.
"The Difficult Kind," Sheryl Crow

Is there anything quite like the dawning horror of realizing that you really like a song by an artist that you normally wish would just fall off a tall building? Admit it, it's happened to you. I can't even talk about this.

1.
"Find Your Way Back," Starship

Ah, this is hard. Is there any other group that so eagerly and so energetically betrayed the astounding amount of talent and prowess that it exhibited in its early years than Jefferson Airplane? (I also have the fucking outstanding "Volunteers" on my iPod, just to balance things out.) I suppose one could make a case for Rod Stewart, but he's not a group, and plus, after only a few minutes of trying to think about the whole thing, you will probably become a heroin addict.

Why do I like this awful cheese log of a song? Something must have happened to me beyond my conscious level to make me like it, since it is utterly schizophrenic and sounds like the love song a dog would compose after humping a Mr. Potato Head. I truly do not understand it on any level. It's like four horrible songs all taking the same desolate onramp to damnation, with Grace Slick screaming like someone jammed an airhorn into her snatch.

How embarrassed about this song am I? I once skipped past it while I was in the grocery store because I was afraid that someone would figure out what I was listening to from the earbud leakage. But I didn't erase it.

I probably won't for a while. Sigh.

It's not on the list, but "Jane" is on there too. Shit.

Thursday, 05 October
The Wreck Of Edwina And Harold

The legend lives on from the grad students on down
Of the big LARP called Half-Elves Are Gloomy
The LARP it is said took place in a shed
Which was cramped, it was dusty, not roomy.

Harold was there, having braided his hair
And his character was Kells of the Silver
Edwina he met in that dark oubliette
And his heart was captured forever.

Edwina the Dwarf was called Slatherton Tarf
And she wielded a great mighty hammer
Harold and she, they loved fiercely and free
And they shared an adorable stammer.

The questing heroes had astonishing THAC0s
And they ranged from cold west to bright east
Never leaving the shed, out of shame it is said
Fighting kobolds and displacer beasts.

Gelatinous cubes proved to be idiot rubes
That the couple would merrily slaughter
Mind flayers were fought in a psionic onslaught
So to rescue King Devilwind’s daughter.

But Edwina one day announced “I-I’m g-gay,”
Harold was riven and then torn asunder.
“Her name is Leaf Mossy, she’s an Elf and an Aussie
And I’m leaving you, I’m moving down under.”

Edwina moved on and Harold cried on the lawn
Outside the shed that had held their shared passion
He tore at his braids and called out to the shades
Of dead loves as is the Half-Elvish fashion.

Harold grew old and lonely and cold
And he sometimes reminisced of Edwina
Memories of battle and halting Dwarf prattle
Drove him to drink in a lonely cantina.

He died in that bar, a Toyota his car
And he slipped into black with a shiver.
He whispered, they said, “After I’m dead
Remember me, Kells of the Silver.”

The legend lives on from the grad students on down
Of the big LARP called Half-Elves Are Gloomy
The LARP it is said took place in a shed
Which was cramped, it was dusty, not roomy.

Monday, 26 June
Are You Receiving Me?

I'm always fucking grousing about something, aren't I? Let's see if I can write something nice without it being corny or anything. ("Corny"? Hi, I'm Holden Caulfield.)

In 1987 or '88 or so, a high school friend of mine landed some sort of scutty work-study gig at KORT, the lone radio station in my hometown. (He would later go on to do DJ work there on weekends, which was swell for me, as I would hang out with him for hours at the studio, where I diligently screwed BIG MUSIC by taping hundreds of their terrible albums.) Periodically, as some sort of lame perk, KORT would offer their employees a number of the albums--yes, vinyl--that they'd receive from the studios, but that KORT clearly had no intention of ever playing.

One day I was at my friend's house, just hanging out, and he brought out one of these albums and offered it to me. "Do you want this?" he said. "It sucks." A ringing endorsement! He handed it to me--I had never heard of the band, much less this strange, meadow-green-jacketed album. It was called Skylarking by some people--or robots, or sentient foxgloves, for all I knew--called XTC.

You have to understand here--I was growing up in Grangeville, Idaho. My only real sources of music were my parents' collection of '60s and '70s rock--and don't get me wrong, thank God for those albums--and, well, KORT, for whom a real act of radio bravery was to air the likes of Ratt, which I knew the station would never play on Sunday, thanks to my friend. As far as KORT was concerned, most of rock music could call it quits with the arrival of John Cafferty and the Beaver Brown Band, and for the grandmas who querulously mewled for a little classical every now and then, they could always point to the fact that every now and then they played "Chariots of Fire." Probably on Sunday.

So there were--and still are--some fairly massive gaps in my musical education.

I took the thing home without any real expectations. I mean, here was a hopeless album rejected from my radio station as well as my dismissive friend. But I had nothing else to do, so I listened to it at home in my room.

Mother Mary of God, what was this? I don't mean to say that it sounded like transmissions from the Planet of Screaming Dogs or anything outlandish, but . . . what was this? And how could my friend declare flatly that it sucked? If there was anything that Skylarking didn't do was suck. It had--okay, pretty broadly obvious--drug references, comic book characters, and a serious amount of fun with words ("um-bi-lie-cal"?). It also had some fairly strange sonic entries, such as the bizarrely pompous and strangely Autumnal "Sacrificial Bonfire" and the track I instantly fell in love with, the delay-soaked "Another Satellite." It even had a big fuck-you to God that some of you might be familiar with.

I listened to the hell out of that record. I wore that record out. And I got mad. Why the fuck would anyone--let alone a radio station--not play this record? It upset me a lot. And I wasn't even about to go to bat for some of the songs--not being much of a fan of the genre, I can live without the jazz-inflected "The Man Who Sailed Around His Soul," and to be honest, I can't at this moment even remember what "Dying" is like. But the rest! How could anyone not want to listen to the relentlessly hooky "That's Really Super, Supergirl"? Look, I'm not trying to hand you a big "THIS CHANGED MY LIFE" thing . . . unless maybe I am. In some small, very personal way . . . fuck it, sure, I guess it did.

After a while, I tentatively started reaching out. I noticed the name "Todd Rundgren" as the producer, and dimly recalled the name from . . . somewhere. Rolling Stone, I'm guessing. So I bought Something/Anything, and while it didn't strike me as forcefully as Skylarking, I was intrigued. This guy is clearly a fucking madman, I thought. (Later I read about the legendarily tumultuous studio sessions that led to Skylarking and my suspicions were confirmed.) I bought a puzzling little double-cassette from XTC called Waxworks/Beeswax, which I was astonished to learn was a collection of their previous singles and B-sides. Astonished because look at all these fucking songs! These guys had been around forever! Who the fuck knew? I practically leaped around my room in joy and befuddlement as the songs unspooled in my stereo, from those spiky, yelping older songs like "This Is Pop" and "Life Begins at the Hop" to some of the later songs that hinted at things to come, like "Making Plans for Nigel." What in the fuck was wrong with the world? Why wouldn't anyone play these songs?

It's still pretty embarrassing that it took me a number of years to figure out that nobody in the rural Pacific Northwest was interested in this stuff in the slightest. My big beef was that KORT was failing to provide the content that the consumer demanded. My big failure in this line of reasoning was, in classic teenage fashion, my inability to recognize that a consumer base of one is always going to lose. (Not that I was likely the only person who was tired of hearing "On the Dark Side." I just didn't have the guts to tell anyone else that the song ate dick, and I had something better to listen to.)

Skylarking, I know this now, led to me branching out, however tentatively at first, but then with increasing boldness--and, typically, with some seriously horrible and misguided results. I hate to lay this at the feet of XTC, but they are in fact directly responsible for how I came to seek out and embrace such a dog's breakfast of bands: to get an idea of how out of my depth I was, let me list some resultant bands that I sought out in my new, fevered quest for things I'd not heard of: Love and Rockets (two albums of YAY! and then Oh, Boy); Frank Zappa (I managed to choose possibly his least-loved entry Jazz From Hell); Big Audio Dynamite (they didn't always suck!); Sigue Sigue Sputnik (which you at least have to admit is a screamingly awesome cultural document--this is the 1980s distilled into its purest form).

This of course also led to other horrible missteps. Whither Clan of Xymox? Whence 808 State? What the fuck, Flesh for Lulu? Should I lay this all at the feet of poor Andy Partridge and Colin Moulding?

I fear I must. But I do so with thanks.

What's with all this? Well, see, my 37th birthday was this last Saturday, and to my delight, the wife purchased for me, among other things, this XTC box set called Coat of Many Cupboards, one of those dealies which collects old album singles, home demos, band demos and versions of songs played while encased in cobalt and all that. I was looking over the thing fondly, and I recalled that fateful moment when my friend handed over Skylarking, and I remember the unalloyed joy of playing that album, over and over in my room, and trying my level best as a dipshit high school brain case trying utterly without success to get my few friends to understand why it was great, and damn it if I found myself shockingly close to tears with the memory. The memory of the frustration, of feeling I'd connected with something, and as far as anyone else was concerned, I was making mysterious semaphores from an ugly boat nobody wanted to get near.

So there you go. An old, old story: the adolescent disconnect. It might as well be a story about a car, or about my first at-bat in baseball, or about sexual confusion. But that's the best thing about rock music--or, fuck that--any music. It's about all of it. None of Skylarking is about any of that, really--the best thing about Skylarking is that it's about me, as far as I'm concerned. Skylarking tells me my own story, and if I may be selfish like all of us must be sometimes, I can never hear it enough.

I tried to think of an elegant way to get this last bit in, but damn it all if I can't. You know what the hell of it is? English Settlement really is better than Skylarking. But there is also truth to the old saying: You never forget the first time you fall in love.

Thursday, 21 July
Might As Well Jump

I apologize to my tens of readers for the long delay in posts, but you see, last night the wife returned home from her Connecticut safari, and really, thank God, because I was just about out of clean whiskey glasses. (Okay, you got me, I was way out of clean glasses. Having run through all of our bowls as well, by Monday evening, I was drinking Bushmill's out of an old tire. Which, I am happy to report, has been thoroughly cleaned now. By the wife. Her hands look like cooked shrimp now, but at least I'm not finding slivers of steel belting in my gums any more.)

It was fairly horrible while she was away, and not just because of the substandard whiskey receptacles: I possess, after all, a theater major, and so naturally spent a few years drinking moonshine directly from the rancid toilet bowls of hillbillies--we've all been there. (Any of you guys been to Hector's, down in the holla? You know the place--he's the guy who decorates his gin toilet with Chiquita banana stickers, and sometimes pisses on the back of your head when you're leaning down for a slurp. That guy!)

But I'm glad to say that it wasn't all horrible. This last Monday I took the old hacksaw to the prison-imposed ankle device that I assure you I wear only as a fashion statement, and went out for a rocking and rollery concert! A delightful band was playing nearby called the Go! Team, whom I do adore for their odd car-crash dancy songs that feature elements of practically everything--I wouldn't have been surprised had someone started playing a lawnmower onstage.

But first, of course, we had to endure the opening bands. Why? Why do we put up with these oafs? Nobody knows.

We got a weird rap band of sorts first up, which prompted this comment from me: "This is what Smash Mouth would be if they were a hip-hop group." For some reason, the DJ members of these bands always depress me. They're stuck there behind those damn turntables, unable to move or do anything interesting except exude utter coolness, and I always get this fantasy about going down and smashing all their records while they wail like Burgess Meredith when he busts his glasses at the end of the world, and he can't read any books after all.

I sure am a swell guy. Anyway, that went on for entirely too long. Then the next band that nobody in the whole building except for those skeevy blondes who inevitably crowd any stage cares about came on, and they performed what sounded an awful lot like old ABC songs to me. A couple of my friends announced their intention to go across the street to a local dive. "The beer is cheaper there, and it's not 1987 either. We'll come back at 11:30." Sigh. The crowd was clappable and nice and all that, but Jesus. Opening bands.

And you also have to understand what a deeply weird town this is when it comes to music: we are famous for NOT DANCING. For anyone. I swear to you that Bootsy Collins could show up in your private basement party and rip off some unbelievably funky bass riff that practically sets your nuts on fire, and most Seattleites would simply nod their heads up and down, standing in place. We should all be forced to wear monocles and starched collars in public. This is how non-dancey and hopelessly too-cool we are. The grunge sensation--for who wanted to dance to grunge? And who was even physically capable of it?--has a lot to answer for. It basically exsanguinated the entire musical community. How the fuck do you dance to the Screaming Trees?

I watched the Go! Team do their thing as I did--yes--my own chin-nod horseshit along to the great songs from the balcony. I started to get really into it, and, bless my soul, found myself jigging around with my hips, and shuffling my feet. Others around me were doing the same, and the band members were trading off instruments like they were baseball cards, and everyone played everything, except for that one hot drummer girl--for are not female drummers hot?--and besides, they had two drummers anyway!

And at one point--being on the balcony--I looked out over the crowd. It was thrilling. Because they were moving. Up and down, they were going crazy! Lester Bangs described in a great article about the Clash how pogoing is a totally natural reaction when you're in a crowd where lateral movement is not an option, and while I wasn't seeing Clash-like vehemence, what I was seeing was a transformation of a dead-eyed, head-nodding bunch of goobs into a very improbable mass of people moving, moving. It made me grin. And it made me jump up and down.

We ask a lot of things from music. It's rare that we get any of it. But sometimes you get to--have to--jump up and down.

Thursday, 03 June
Failing, It Takes Me Away

So briefly this evening the wife and I tuned into another VH1 abortion, called something like "The Awesomest [oy] Bad Rock Songs Ever." This was a typical lo-fi VH1 hairball where who-dat? comedians slagged on bad rock songs, mostly from the last 20 years, because apparently popular culture has adopted the lifespan of a mayfly: Birth, purchase questionable pants, sweat-fuck Tawny Kitaen, find self beneath dirt. The list was lifted from the all-blogged Blender magazine list, which I never bothered to read in full, so this is probably not news to anyone; I certainly never paid it any attention because lists like these are always arbitrary and impossibly dumb. The point--if any--seemed to be, "Let's pick entirely horrid songs and make fun of them." This is not exactly heavy lifting, especially when such broad targets as Limp Bizkit or Wang Chung enter into things. I should know. I've made fun of them before, and it is easy, thank God--I'm very lazy. But that's not the point. Did the list have to be so fucking obvious and mirthless and weak?

Their number one pick was Starship's "We Built This City." But everyone knew that was a terrible song, even when it came out, just like everyone knows that this Pink person is a horrible hack, or that J.Lo is only tolerated because of her startling ass. It's not very nuanced is what I'm saying. "We Built This City"? Come on. Where are the acts I've mocked before? Where is Toto? "Rosanna"? "Africa"? How about Neil Diamond (arguably not rock, I guess, but if we're talking not-rock, it's hard to get snitty when you're including Starship)? "America" is a deeply embarrassing song, if only for Diamond's frankly incredibly bombastic, leather-lunged delivery; and then there's "Heartlight," which sounds a lot like he's undergoing thoracic surgery. "Turn on your HEART LIGHT!" he screams, and I always expect him to continue, "Please remove THE BLOCKAGE!"

I don't really blame VH1 or this Blender rag for blowing off horrid music that is under their audience radar, as it would just cost them money. But I do get sad that some of our respected "alternative" or "indie" or "covered in piss" artists don't get recognized for their horrifying failures. No love for Tones On Tail's skeevy "Slender Fungus"? Come on! That's an abysmal song! "Slender fungus kiss the fish inside a stolen jeep." These lyrics are perhaps the reason that Bela Lugosi is dead.

Okay, forget it, fuck the nobodies. How about the legends? Are they represented? I doubt it. (I couldn't muster up the gumption to actually look at the whole list, so I don't know.) I'm willing to bet that the Rolling Stones weren't on there for things like "Turd on the Run," which sounds like it was recorded under an upturned iron bathtub, and oh, is also called "Turd on the Run." Or how about the sonic masterpiece of "She's A Rainbow," which is like a sonic itchy suit.

Led Zeppelin is forever responsible for "Immigrant Song," which sounds a lot like someone forced to recite Tolkein while being assaulted with a belt sander. "AAAAAAAIIIIIIIIIIAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHH!" Indeed! Tell me about the land of ice and snow. But at least Zep had a reputation for incredibly stupid songs, so it didn't really make any noticable dent.

The Doors? Eternally committed to vinyl is "The End," possibly the most hilarious example of unfortunate undergraduate prose ever committed to posterity. "I WANT TO KILL YOU!" Hey, that's interesting! I want to laugh at you! I like to imagine listening to this song with Sylvia Plath, and I imagine her going, "Jeez, what a tool. I want to live!" Then I play her the song again. "Scratch that, I'll die."

How about the infallible Beatles? No. You can blame a lot of horrible shit on Paul, such as, say, "She's Leaving Home," which would give anyone cavities, but John frequently fares no better. You can't tell me that "Revolution 9" is a real song any more than you can tell me that flip-flops are actually dress shoes. I'm pretty stupid, but come on. This is also the same band that countenanced "Piggies," a trenchant little ditty that managed to notice that some politicians are corrupt.

Even my favorite band of all time, The Who, recorded howlingly terrible songs. "Baba O'Reilly" is probably my favorite song of all time, but Jesus God: they were also responsible for puke-tastic "Cousin Kevin" or the unbelievably wretched "Christmas" (both off of Tommy), songs so worthless that even the band recognized were hair-raisingly horrible, and quietly didn't perform for years.

The whole thing is just silly (not that I mind silly). Part of the fun of these things is to shriek with disbelief at the noninclusions (and I again state that I didn't bother to read the whole thing). Where is John Parr? Vanilla Ice's "Ice Ice Baby" was worse than the utterly reprehensible "To Kill A Hooker" by NWA? Deep Blue Something's utterly somnabulistic "Breakfast at Tiffany's" was somehow more forgettable than Dada's no-cal song "Dizz Knee Land"? And how do you even try to compare thinglets like Chuck Berry's intolerable "My Ding-A-Ling" versus Kip Winger allegedly singing about "Madelaine"? You can't!

You can't do anything.

The best that you can do? The best that you can do? Is fall in love.

Monday, 08 March
When Einstrzende Neubauten Seems Twee . . .

I still have not been able to hook up the home computer, thanks to some unresponsive phone jacks, so in the meantime I will simply regale you with some song titles from what I can only assume is the most terrible band in history. Friends, I give you Anal Cunt.

I Like It When You Die


1. Jack Kevorkian Is Cool
2. Valujet
3. You've Got No Friends
4. You Keep a Diary
5. You Own a Store
6. You Got Date Raped
7. Recycling Is Gay
8. You're a Cop
9. You Can't Shut Up
10. You've Got Cancer
11. We Just Disagree
12. Hungry Hungry Hippos
13. You Are an Interior Decorator
14. Pottery's Gay
15. Rich Goyette Is Gay
16. Branscombe Richmond
17. You Live in Allston
18. You Are a Good Food Critic
19. Just the Two of Us
20. Your Band's in the Cut-Out Bin
21. You're Gay
22. You Look Adopted
23. Your Cousin Is George Lynch
24. You Have Goals
25. You Drive an Iroc
26. You Play on a Softball Team
27. Because You're Old
28. You Sell Cologne
29. Being a Cobbler Is Dumb
30. You Live in a Houseboat
31. Richard Butler
32. 311 Sucks
33. Your Kid Is Deformed
34. You Are an Orphan
35. You're Old (Fuck You)
36. You Go to Art School
37. You're Best Friend Is You
38. You're in a Coma
39. Windchimes Are Gay
40. No, We Don't Want to Do a Splait Seven Inch With Your Stupid Fucking Band
41. Ren Auberjonois
42. Internet Is Gay
43. Ha, Ha Your Wife Left You
44. Hootie and the Blowfish
45. You Went to See Dishwalla and Everclear (You're Gay)
46. Locking Drop Dead in McDonalds
47. Technology's Gay
48. Your Favorite Band Is Supertramp
49. I'm in Anal Cunt
50. You (Fill in the Blank)
51. Kyle from Incantation Has a Mustache
52. Bonus Track #3

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Picnic of Love

1. Picnic of Love
2. Greed Is Something That We Don't Need
3. I Wanna Grow Old With You
4. I'd Love to Have Your Daughter's Hand in Marriage
5. I Couldn't Afford to Buy You a Present (So I Wrote You This Song)
6. Waterfall Wishes
7. I'm Not That Kind of Boy
8. Saving Ourselves for Marriage
9. I Respect Your Feelings as a Woman and a Human
10. In My Heart There's a Star Named After You
11. [Untitled]

Oh, poo! I thought these were angry lads, but look! They're very sweet! Oh, the poignancy of [Untitled]!

Bonus Amazon commenter: These are some of the most heartfelt ballads of any rock band I've ever heard, which includes the hits of Styx and Winger. Rock, On, A.C., and may Jesus our Saviour bless thee!!!

Amen, brother!

Hopefully after tomorrow night, when Qwest is finished violently boning me for repair fees, I can get back on a more reg'lar-type posting regimen.

Wednesday, 03 March
The Worst Of The Best Of

20th Century Masters - The Millennium Collection: The Best of Ready for the World

Bafflingly, the equation "Prince x 5 = 5 Times the enjoyment of Prince" is clearly untrue.

Bonus Amazon customer review quote: "Much love for Ready for the World, because they are my favorite group. I would give them 100 stars, more than 5 stars. They sounded so romantic and I like to listen to them everyday!"

Obsession: The Best of Animotion

The title says it all. No, seriously. "Obsession" was the best of Animotion, period, as they promptly all died of the flux moments after the song hit big.

Bonus Amazon customer review comment: "Wow! What a rippen cd. This is the best band that ever lived in the history of pop music. Drums are the best drums in the whole world. He's better than Dave Weckl, Billy Cobham, and Buddy Rich combined. This band is a complete expierience of pop sensation. BUY THIS CD KNOW!"

For various reasons, these sentences comprise the best prose ever written. Though it does make me sad knowing that nobody will ever compare me to Dave Weckl. For those who have no idea who Dave Weckl is, like me, you should buy his CDs know.

Bonus BONUS Amazon customer review comment: "This album would rate four or higher if it weren't missing I Engineer, which to me, is the best song ever performed by Animotion. You would think The Best of... would contain I Engineer."

Track 4: "I Engineer"

Murray Head - Greatest Hits

Interestingly, this "Greatest Hits" album contains nothing from Jesus Christ Superstar, which is a shame, since hearing Judas screech out "If you'd come today you could have reached the whole nation/ Israel in 4 BC had no mass communication!" is a real hoot.

Instead, you get the wildly improbable hit "One Night in Bangkok" and a bunch of other mystifying horseshit, including something called "Mo Mystery," which unfortunately makes me think of the very unmysterious Mo Vaughn.

Bonus Amazon customer review comment: None.

Very Best of Ram Jam

Oh dear. Remember this band and their witless cover of Leadbelly's "Black Betty"? No? You must not have seen a theatrical trailer in the last twenty years. Also included is the beguilingly titled "404," leading me to believe that this awful band was ahead of its time in cataloguing the nameless dread of hitting a dead end on the internet.

Bonus Amazon customer review comment: "What a great CD! Their first 2 albums on 1 disc. The classic Black Betty rocks! Every song on this CD is hard rockin' at it's best. Tell you the truth, I didn't know they had a second album release until I bought this."

Fulsome praise indeed.

Europe 1982-1992

So titled because if you play "The Final Countdown," it will seem to last for ten years before it is over.

Bonus Amazon customer review comment: "Joey Tempest has a great voice and is also a good keyboard player, as we can hear on the tracks from the two first EUROPE albums. Both John Norum and his replacement in 1986, Kee Marcello are excellent guitarists. Mic Michaeli does well with his keyboard work, and Tony Reno and Ian Haugland are some of the world's best drummers. John Levn is a skilful bassist."

Poor John Leven gets damned with faint praise compared to his legendary bandmates, but I suppose that's to be expected.

Spaced Out: The Best of Leonard Nimoy and William Shatner

Flee for your lives. This terrifying album, in addition to proving that God is wrathful, also demonstrates that nobody is allowed to die before recording a cover of "Both Sides Now" and "Everybody's Talkin'."

Incense and Peppermints [Collection]--Strawberry Alarm Clock

Included merely because I was bummed out that there wasn't a "Best of" album for Lothar and the Hand People.

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Rock on, man.


[The idea for this post is courtesy of my pal Kafkaesque, who is a real mensch for letting me steal it.]

Friday, 19 December
Results!

Well, that was fun, at least for me, anyway. Thanks to all who played. The big winner is a frightening lunatic named J. Rogers, who actually responded with an answer for all 25.

Some things became clear almost immediately: for one, I should never have used "silver spoon," as it is a pretty stock phrase, and shows up in multiple songs, like "Gold Dust Woman" and Everlast's "What It's Like." Second, NOBODY got my original reference for the phrase "stand naked," which was Bob Dylan's "It's Alright Ma (I'm Only Bleeding)," but even worse, our winner made me feel plank-stupid by noticing that the same phrase is used in The Who's "Bargain." The most common trip-up was thinking of "Your Momma Don't Dance and Your Daddy Don't Rock and Roll" for "don't dance," but I specifically said I wouldn't use phrases that were completely used in titles. I was actually thinking of "Safety Dance" when I wrote it, but I could have picked a better one that that, I think.

Anyway! Here are the complete answers. And to those of you who responded with challenges of your own: I thank you for making me realize how much I suck for doing this in the first place. What a pain in the ass these are.

1. choking smokers--The Beatles, "I Am the Walrus"
2. devil too--XTC, "Dear God"
3. grey eyes--New Order, "Temptation"
4. fruit cage--Peter Gabriel "Sledgehammer"
5. supple wrist--The Who, "Pinball Wizard"
6. silver spoon--Harry Chapin, "Cat's in the Cradle"
7. sixty-five degrees--Talking Heads, "Burning Down the House"
8. watch dynasty--Prince, "Kiss"
9. needs sweeping--The Beatles, "While My Guitar Gently Weeps"
10. halfway there--Bon Jovi, "Livin' On A Prayer"
11. done died--Aerosmith, "Sweet Emotion"
12. god money--Nine Inch Nails, "Head Like A Hole"
13. don't dance--Men Without Hats, "Safety Dance"
14. face north--REM, "Stand"
15. stand naked--Bob Dylan, "It's Alright Ma (I'm Only Bleeding)"
16. baggage carousel--Squeeze, "Tempted"
17. city walls--U2, "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For"
18. slicing up--Pixies, "Debaser"
19. loves horses--Tom Petty, "Free Fallin'"
20. hickory stump--Charlie Daniels, "Devil Went Down to Georgia"
21. 'til touchdown--Elton John, "Rocket Man"
22. be double--The Clash, "Should I Stay or Should I Go?"
23. lost myself--Radiohead, "Karma Police"
24. late September--Rod Stewart, "Maggie May"
25. be abused--Eurythmics, "Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)"

Congratulations to J. "Mr." Rogers! Send me your address, and I'll send you something crappy, like a box of lizards!

Thursday, 18 December
T Minus Two Words

As I was walking home today from work, a familiar set of sensations came over me: I listen to music in my head a lot, and my internal jukebox likes to mix up songs without much regard as to how they fit together. Sometimes someone--a coworker, a friend--will say something that sets off a song in my brain (say, for example, someone says, "roped and tied," and I'll have Elton John's "Someone Saved My Life Tonight" in my head for hours), and as my loony head spun, I began to wonder: Is it possible that there are certain irreducible phrases that can conjure up whole pop songs? Could only two words, say, bring up a whole song? And would it be so for other, possibly non-loony people?

So I set about a totally nonscientific, totally bullshit endeavor: I tried to imagine mere two-word phrases or phraselets that could possibly evoke an entire pop song. I of course avoided titles: How hard would it be to figure out something like "California Girls"? I also avoided pop chorus phrases that were terribly obvious or clearly rhymed with the titles, like say "graveyard smash."

So what I tried to do was to think of unique two-word phrases that could only refer to one specific pop song. And then I wondered how people would deal with it, given that I was by definition working out of context (though I altered no grammar, syntax or anything; I also did not obfuscate things, I hope, by ramming together words that didn't belong with one another). I just tried to think of certain two-word phrases (and hopefully without many articles) that seemed to embody, typify, or just clearly identify certain well-known songs.

I've probably fucked it all up, but hey. And if I had any clue how to make radio buttons, or text fields, this would all be cleaner, but I don't, so you're stuck with me: If it moves you to do so, take the quiz, and email me your guesses/comments at Skot(AT)izzlepfaff.com. The winner will receive . . . uh . . . something weird from me! In the (unfortunately very likely) case that there are multiple candidates for my two-word hints, I will award points once I verify the correct lyrics via Google. In any case, these songs were either hits, or have become more or less ubiquitously classic. Wording is important. But sorry, I get to be the final arbiter.

Final pointers: I tried very hard to make these unique, two-word lyrical singularities, but I probably failed. But if you can make the case that there was another popular song that used the EXACT same words, I'll cough up a point (Different cases or alternate plurals or altered wordings aren't going to fly). But just know that, for the most part, these are all pretty commonly known songs from the past 30 years, and except for a couple entries, aren't that sneaky--though I wonder at what I'll be seeing. Bear it in mind that a crabby argument about how Desmond Choad and His Angry Toads once sang similar lyrics to what I list are unlikely to carry much weight.

And finally: This is kind of a "hey, shiny thing!" for me. I don't intend it to be a real biggie. If I fuck it all up, I'm all to blame. I'm just kind of interested in seeing what comes of it. Again, everything from here on out is on me. Here's the list. I'm not worrying about punctuation or capitalization, and since for deviousness' sake, I don't want to clue anyone in as to where in a given lyric's place the snippet came, but do know this: I did not string together any misleading words or fuck with the word order. I may have messed with the timing of the flow, but these words all go together in their songs. And to those of you who might Google your brains out: I can't stop you, but you suck.

Here they are. Like I said, these are two-word phrases from well-recognized pop songs. Show me what you got. Some of these are (I think) easy. Some of them are totally diabolical (or, ah, I'm just a dumbass). At least that's what I say now. I had a good time with this. Let's see what happens. I'm really most excited to see how many people write, "WHAT? Not THAT song! That's from ANOTHER SONG!"

1. choking smokers
2. devil too
3. grey eyes
4. fruit cage
5. supple wrist
6. silver spoon
7. sixty-five degrees
8. watch dynasty
9. needs sweeping
10. halfway there
11. done died
12. god money
13. don't dance
14. face north
15. stand naked
16. baggage carousel
17. city walls
18. slicing up
19. loves horses
20. hickory stump
21. 'til touchdown
22. be double
23. lost myself
24. late September
25. be abused

P.S.--I thought I had caught the typo last night, but apparently it didn't stick. #4 is now corrected. It's one of the easy ones, I think.

Friday, 14 November
The Day In Music

During my workdays, I generally fire up the webstream of local station KEXP, whose mission is to play mostly indie rock, alongside whatever desperately weird shit that might be in dubious vogue. ("Here's a track from Emilio Esteves' new album of diesel trucks running over garbage cans, called Even Rabbits Vomit Sometimes.") It usually works pretty well--I get to listen to a lot of varied music that I might not hear, and I also get to feel marginally hip: "Hey, I'm listening to a band called Low Flying Owls! Nobody on Earth has ever heard of these weirdos . . . but I have!" An important part of hipness is being able to say things like this. John Cage is a good example: Go look at your record collection. No John Cage albums? Totally not hip. Plenty of John Cage albums that you never, ever listen to? Extremely hip.

Not that KEXP plays John Cage; after all, they do want people to actually listen to them. But they're coming close this morning. Mere minutes ago, they went from Dinosaur Jr.'s bewildering molestation of "Just Like Heaven" right into Sonic Youth's useless cornholing of "Ca Plane Pour Moi." Jesus, guys, they were already laughable songs. You didn't have to go and prove it.

I'll continue to monitor this situation as the day goes on, but I lack hope. In the intervening minutes, they have played songs by two bands with names I hate: Possum Dixon and Clem Snide. I'm a big believer in loathing bands simply for picking rotten names--for this reason, I have never been able to enjoy Travis, for example. It's just easier. Okay, sometimes I enjoy Travis, but it's difficult; I usually have to think about Gary Sandy's character from "WKRP in Cincinatti" while listening, which isn't cool: it's like thinking about baseball statistics during sex.

Update: now playing Cibo Matto's "Know Your Chicken." I know a ridiculous number of people who unaccountably love this terrible song, including my wife. I submit that they are all unhinged. (Love you, honey!) This is the trench mouth of songs.

Update: now playing is "Angry Inch" by Sleater-Kinney, who is joined by FRED SCHNEIDER. I don't know what the fuck is going on any more. Sleater-Kinney and Fred Schneider? It's like being served a juicy steak with a side of angry bees.

Update: time for a little Wilco, with "I Am Trying To Break Your Heart." I love this song, but at this point, Wilco is kind of the Poco of the indie pop world. They were massively popular for about ten minutes, and very soon nobody will ever listen to them again. In a similar vein, The Flaming Lips (and I like them too) are basically today's answer to the Electric Prunes.


Update: Mates of State, "Ha Ha." Reaction: Ugh Ugh. It's like neighbors shouting at each other through thin walls. But in the interest of not sounding like the world's crabbiest ass, a little while ago I was treated to RJD2's "The Horror," which is a blast. Q: Is a good song vastly improved by the addition of rhythmic "HEY!" callouts? A: Yes, always.

Update: INDIE HIPNESS CHECK! The Shins, and then the Decemberists. These bands bore me stupid. Why am I listening to this station again? Oh right: because the alternatives are things like The Mountain, whose MOR ghouls lie waiting for the telltale victim-scent of chai tea; or The End, the "alternative" radio equivalent of soft tissue damage.

Update: I kid you not, Low Flying Owls.

Not really an Update: I just saw a startling headline: China cracks down on rat poison murders. Will this oppressive regime stop at nothing to beat down its hapless people? Jesus, China, lighten up!

Update: Robyn Hitchcock! Who doesn't like a guy who sings about fish, megacephaly, and gay threeways? Insane people, that's who.

Wednesday, 12 November
The Holiday Spirit Attacks!

It's the holiday season, you hopeless bivalves! It's time to get into the spirit! Don't you watch television? Make with the fucking JOLLY, people! Don't make me send John Madden after you to gnaw on your cankles with his gigantic, awful teeth! I've even written you a new holiday classic to sing! Go pound on your neighbors' doors until they unlatch the deadbolts and stand there horrified while you lustily scream this song into their haunted, weeping faces! It's a gorgeous ode to the fucking QUEST FOR SANTA in the dire Arctic wasteland, for Christ's sake, sung to the tune of the immortal "Winter Wonderland!" GET TO IT! Spread some goddamn holiday cheer today or I'll set your fucking hair on fire! Happy holidays!

Over the ground lies a death-shroud of white
A Gehenna of zirconia
Shine down through the night
My heart is convulsing
Life signs waning, erratically pulsing . . .

Lashes freeze, they are cracking
In my feet, feeling lacking
A frightening white, I'm losing my sight
Walking in an Arctic tundra-land

Gone away are my senses
A bad rhyme here would be "menses"
I'm hypothermic, I can't feel my dick
Walking in an Arctic tundra-land

In the ice-white I can build an igloo
And pretend that I soon won't be dead
I'll sit there and curse that fat-ass Santa
I'd love to find him and remove his head

Later on I'll expire
As I fail to build a fire
I'm surrounded by white, I'm losing my sight
Dying in this arctic tundra-land.

Friday, 24 October
Missing Misery

The wife and I were driving home from rehearsal the other night when the local indie station told us the sad news about Elliott Smith. We were both pretty bummed out; I had always liked his sad, crabbily smart songs, and later that night I put the headphones on and listened to some favorites, like "Stupidity Tries" and "Waltz #2." I'll miss that papery keen and his penchant for Beatlesque string swells. I always wondered what it would be like if he and Aimee Mann tried their hand at collaboration: probably some gorgeous misery-orgy of an album along with one lone, snarky, evil perversity like a cover of "Muskrat Love." I'd buy that.

I grew up with a serious hard-on for pop music (my father warned me against never touching his new stereo until he realized that I treated it like a holy thing, and would sooner cut off my feet than harm it; after that, I had unlimited access to their vinyl, and sat for hours listening to The Who). But I never tried my hand at it, apart from some effort on my mom's part to teach me piano; because of my boundless laziness, I regarded the lessons as one step up from being slowly poisoned, so I soon quit, because it was irritating to me that I wasn't instantly good at it. But I was really excellent at sitting around and fucking off, so I enthusiastically embraced that as my hobby of choice.

So I never learned an instrument, and I never sang, either. I mean, I did some bullshit chorus stuff in junior high, but when I tripped into acting during college, I never even considered the musical route: for one thing, I detest musicals; earlier tonight someone was talking about seeing a production of Oklahoma!, and I offered that it would take six strong armed men to force me to watch that fucking thing. I'd rather be chewed to death by vampire Shriners.

But I have sung. I've been cast in shows where I had to sing, God help me, mostly terrible little throwaway numbers, or as a part of the ensemble, because, no shit, I'm not being falsely modest here, I really am not too good. I have no training at all; I smoke; I am profoundly unconfident; the idea of it makes me sweat pure uranium--so it's just not sensible for anyone to try and make me sing anything.

But a couple of years ago, I made the mistake of having an interesting idea: I had just stumbled across the Magnetic Fields' horrendously wonderful 3-disc 69 Love Songs, and I mentioned to my friend R. that it would be a pretty neat thing to do a Valentine's Day cabaret set featuring nothing but selections from the albums. He thought it was a great idea, and immediately set it up, scheduling three days in February for the event. He planned on singing himself, lined up two female friends for the project, and then--it was my idea!--asked me if I would be the fourth person to round out the show.

For unclear reasons, I agreed. This was deeply irrational and weird; as I said, I'm no singer. I have no training, and the whole prospect was terrifying: R. had also lined up a freakishly talented local band who specialized in a sort of ethereal chamber pop to do the music, and I clearly had no business on stage with any of them. It's no exaggeration that I was the most hopeless person involved.

And yet. He was offering me songs! Such songs! "The Luckiest Guy on the Lower East Side"! "Yeah Oh Yeah"! "When My Boy Walks Down the Street"! And then I apparently went off my nut, because I was suddenly suggesting things: "Why didn't you pick 'Grand Canyon'? Or 'The Death of Ferdinand DeSaussure'? Those are great songs!" They were promptly given to me.

So there I was: self-fucked. How was I going to fucking DO THIS? The answer, as it turned out, was scotch. We kept a bottle of the stuff backstage (we were all pretty nervous), and there's nothing like a little Dutch courage to make situations seem suddenly less daunting. It has other side effects too.

On the night we recorded the performance on CD, I can be heard jabbering nonsense in the middle of "Luckiest Guy," and then blurting, "I seem to have forgotten that line!" At the end of the song, I inform the audience, "Come back tomorrow for the complete lyrics!" Similarly, later in the disc, R. and I are bulldozing our way through "Abigail, Belle of Kilronan, " and there's an amusing moment where we both kind of lose the momentum and then uncertainly fuck up coming back in on the melody, somehow sharing between us maybe six different keys: "Abi--" "ABIGA--" "--GAiiiil . . . " (chuckles) "ABIGAIIIIL!"

And yet, and yet. R. and I also performed a version of "Grand Canyon" that, well, is admittedly probably never going to set anyone's house on fire with its pyrotechnics or anything, but man alive, it sounds wonderful to me. It sounded wonderful doing it, and it sounded even more wonderful when a couple people told me that it had made them tear up. That might have been the most wonderful thing I've ever heard in my many hours in the theater: what actor doesn't want to move people to tears? (Weird actors, and I've known them: they hate audiences, and wish them ill, and have only contempt for them; they are, in my opinion, creepy and dangerous, and should be boiled.)

I don't know what the point of all this is. I'm just writing. I do know that I'll miss Mr. Smith and his lovely, plaintively literate songs. And I miss singing "Grand Canyon" in that way that you miss a good vacation when it's over. And I think it's good, though of course painful, to miss things, and people: it's part of remembering. You don't reminisce about things you never cared about in the first place.

If I was the Grand Canyon
I'd echo everything you say
But I'm just me
I'm only me
And you used to love me that way.

I know it's not Smith's lyrics. I'm just saying: I'll miss the echoes.

Tuesday, 05 August
Temporarily The Best Thing Ever

Sure signs that you've gotten snared by a song that isn't going to let you go for a while:

1. You take a bus half a mile out of your way to get the CD, which was released today--you were careful to note--going all the way up to 15th because your stupid neighborhood is rapidly going all to hell, and consequently, where before there were no less than five (5) music stores, there is now one (1), and it's tiny and mostly used stuff, and also because Fred Meyer doesn't count, because they sell only crap. I know that half a mile is not a long way to go, even just to walk, much less take a bus, but you have to realize how phenomenally lazy I really am. Sometimes I let my mail sit for months, waiting for natural entropic forces to open it for me.

2. In the interceding MONTH since you first heard the song on the radio and its accompanying CD release--a month? Jesus, don't release the song that far ahead!--you emailed your local radio station no less than three times with requests for the song, taking care each time to make sure it wasn't the same DJ over and over, because, you know, you don't want to come off creepy and obsessive to someone you don't know and will never meet. It's better to post on your weblog how creepy and obsessive you are, so your tens of readers can see instead.

3. Get home with CD and immediately begin torturing yourself with the sweet anticipation of hearing the song. Do not play it immediately, and in fact wait for your long-suffering wife to ask, "So did you get your CD today?" She knows about this because you have been talking about this song for the last month in the tones of a junkie who heard of a new amusement park called Smackland opening soon. Delay. Don't be sensible and race to the stereo. Put away the groceries. Pick lint off your feet (yeah, like you don't get foot lint). Idly wonder which is funnier, a meerkat or an echidna? Meanwhile, pretend you're not fiddling with the CD like a chittering ninny.

4. Finally, put in the CD. Turn it up loud and play it, casting furtive glances at the wife, because it's important that she like the song as much as you. In fact, you realize that it is really, really important that everyone, all your friends must like this song as much as you do. This is the most important song in the universe until you get sick of it, which you sadly know in your small thoughts you eventually will, but for right now, everyone must love this song. Try not to be too crushed when they are not.

5. And when the wife has gone off to rehearsals, play the song over and over and over. You will want to air guitar and air drum and mock-sing and do your upsettingly bad little rock-dancing routine along with it. Do so. Find yourself not caring much when you notice that you are visible to people on the sidewalk.

6. Finally stop playing it. Not that you're tired of it--hell no! But you're starting to feel a little guilty and plus, you don't want to wear the thing out all at one go. You're going to savor this for as long as you can. You never know when you're going to get caught, trapped by a song that you've fallen in love with, so you have to stretch out the arc of the affair for as long as possible. And the best part is, even when (you know the time will come, admit it, even though right now it seems just possible that this song will be different, and you will always love it THIS MUCH, you know you really won't) you fall out of love with it, and it joins the rest of your collection, you will one day find it again, or it'll find you, and it'll be like a warm visit and an exchange of pleasant memories with an old friend. Human ex-lovers don't behave that way, but this song will, and someday you can share a drink with it and say, "I remember when I loved you, wasn't it great? I mean, you're still wonderful, but back then, God, it was love." And the song will say back, "That was great! All the same, it's nice to see you again. Now hush, and listen: " Just like that.

I'm no tease, folks. It's a song called "Carried" by some bunch of Brit kids named Steadman. And for at least the next week, it's the most important song in the world.

Monday, 30 June
Chompin' At The Savoy

Last night, I spent a bit of the evening with the inlaws and new brother-in-law; it was the first time we'd hung out since we'd returned from Belgium, and they were itchy to see pictures and all that. It was also ostensibly to post-celebrate the brother-in-law's recent graduation and my birthday, but that was slightly dimmed by the forgetting of several crucial parcels back home. Oh well; the in-laws are actually lovely people and really like me a lot or do a really brilliant job of feigning affection.

I'm not entirely clear on whose choice it was to go to a jazz club, however; I hate jazz. I know, I know: I'm a philistine, but listen: I don't hate every single jazz song out there--just almost all of them. Think what you may, it's cool, I've heard every possible variant on the it's-impossible-to-hate-jazz theme, and probably the only thing I can say in my defense is that I also hate reggae, which generally makes people give up on talking to me altogether. He probably steals from cripples, too!

With that said, I did have a reasonably good time; not for the music, which was, I was informed, swing-based jazz, but mainly for the musicians. There's something refreshing about the way they watch each other and grin and shout out things like "Damn!" or "Here we go!" or simply make gestures to indicate that that other guy over there is totally blowing my mind right now! I've been weaned on so much rock music, which seems to have brutally conditioned its every star not to dare to enjoy their own music, except in a vaguely glacial way, that to see people actively encouraging each other was really a treat.

Unfortunately, that sort of looseness was largely absent whenever the music stopped. There was a lot of sententious bunkum about how we--the audience--was doing something special with our time, by coming out and supporting this very important music, all with the rather gooey undertone that somewhere, a lot of people not quite as cool as us were unfortunately enjoying baser stuff, like TV or sports. It sounded like something I'd hear on a public television pledge drive: a little desperate, like maybe everyone was thinking, "Is our art form in danger or what?" Being involved in live theater, I've heard this tone of voice before.

Then there was the food. Having earlier spoiled my appetite with a Polish dog before watching Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle, a fucking catastrophe of a movie that really destroyed my appetite*, I wasn't in the mood for anything heavy, so I ordered the Caesar's salad. It arrived--suspiciously--almost immediately, and it looked like something recently punched viciously in the face. It lay on the plate, oozing dressing wanly, and seemed to be composed mainly of Romaine spines denuded of actual leaf material. I stabbed it to put it out of its misery and absently shoved it into my mouth while the band softly did something weird to a Stevie Wonder tune. The piano player was making some entertaining taking-a-dump faces into his keyboard, but occasionally he'd cast a look out over the audience that was rather hunted. He looked like he suspected angry bill collectors were massing behind the bar, preparing to rush him at any time. "That would be so cool," I thought. I scooped up another forkful of the salad corpse.

A Claymore mine exploded in my mouth, cracking my teeth and rending my palate into tatters. "AAAAAHHH!" I howled like beaten geek. The waitress came rushing over. "Ssssh! Ssssh!" she hissed. "I bid indo a croudon!" She didn't care. "You'll have to be quiet! This is jazz!" I whimpered while blood pooled in my lap. "By boud willy huts," I whispered to the table, but they were engrossed in a really ripping trumpet solo that sounded like a car horn caught under a freight train.

But soon the set ended and I tortured my weeping tissues with a nice scotch--fuck you, mouth. Pictures were viewed, and all were happy, and as we made our way out, I saw a really cool thing: the musicians were hanging out near the bar talking to the fans. Chatting nicely, graciously accepting compliments, actually talking about music AND they had another set in half an hour . . . well, shit. I'd go back again just for that sometime.

*Seriously. This movie is astoundingly terrible. Don't be stupid. Stay away.

Monday, 16 June
Words To Die By

Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you The Worst Album Review Ever Written. It simply must be read to be believed. Your mind will rave at you: "Is this a joke? Was it written by hive-mind algae? Is it a garbled transmission from Polaris? What the fuck is this?" No answers will be forthcoming, and the empty world will howl around you while your brain burns in a massive cellular suicide.

Samples, in case you think I'm engaging in hyperbole:

Fittingly, Ulrich's scrapyard racket rang senselessly like quickening, imploding industry under filtered, stream-of-clich riffing.

Imploding industry? What? Never mind, there's more:

ProTools never snorted ants up his FireWire from the side of the pool while urinating down a woman's dress.

Noted.

Thursday, 05 June
Tune In, Turn On, Creep Out

A friend of mine, in a hopeless attempt at trying to introduce me to some high culture, recently sent me a couple CDs that he had burned featuring 20th century "classical" music. I've been enjoying them, mostly; they're certainly a far cry from the Fruit Bats or Alpinestars.

Tonight I was listening to them with the TV muted, just hanging out watching the Mariners fuck the Phillies out of their third game straight, which was kind of surreal. Stadiums and ESPN have, over time, made watching sports in general associated mostly with whomping arena rock; "We Will Rock You" and the like, so it's definitely a brain-whack to be listening to the tinkling of Debussy while watching Mike Cameron hit a monster three-run homer. BOO YA! I wanted to scream, while gently waving around a martini, pinky extended. It was almost like some weird experiment in generative synesthesia. Or something. So I kept the CDs going while watching SportsCenter, skipping tracks around for maximum weirdness effect.

There's footage of KOBE GOING UP FOR A BIG JAM! while Tcherepin plonks around in the air. I see a KNEE-BUCKLING STRIKE THREE FASTBALL by Woody Williams while Schoenberg grinds away weirdly. And possibly the creepiest thing of all, I listen to one of Philip Glass's uniquely sinuous ibbidibibbidi melodies while staring at a couple hockey teams I don't care about skitter around like ice spiders, until I finally have to turn the music off when a fight breaks out right as Glass comes to a cold-metal crescendo. The whole thing was wonderful, but deeply weird; like two things to be enjoyed equally but separately. You never drink a glass of milk and think, "Boy, a cigarette would sure go well with this."

With that said, I think I'm going to specify in my will that at my funeral, Orff's "Carmina Burana" must be played at top volume, and that all eulogies must be given in rap form, bellowed along with the awful din. It certainly should make for a short service, something I think everyone would appreciate. And I'm all for doing everything I can to keep the weirdness alive.

(Man, these posts have been weird and choppy lately. Don't mind me. Without boring you with any details, suffice it to say that work is in full freak-out mode lately, with multiple ghastly events all converging on this approaching Tuesday. After Tuesday, my posts will probably assume their more familiar forms of confused gabbling and loony hectoring. Won't that be nice?)

Friday, 30 May
Now Don't Hear This

Last night, the wife fixed for me a delicious meal of steak and broccoli, and as I finished up, I asked her for a toothpick. But nothing can be that easy; as often happens, the phrase picked up some resonance in my brain, and I found myself singing the request to her using the chorus melody from Foreigner's "Juke Box Hero."

Hand me a TOOTH! PICK! BABY!
Got fooood in my teeeeth!
Hand me a TOOTH! PICK! BABY!
For paaarticles of beeeef!

(To be honest, I only sang the first two lines; the last two came to me a bit later, but my unlucky readers deserve the whole unfortunate quatrain.)

I do this all the time; I find some rhythmic match between any given banal sentence and any given pop song, and then I wander around with it in my head all day. It had even happened moments before last evening; terribly . . . it really hurts to confess this. But my mind wrapped itself around this desperately awful phrase, set to John Denver's "Annie's Song":

You fiiilll up my stoooomach,
Like . . . food in my stooomach.

Hold me.

Anyway, from there I moved on to idly thinking about Mondegreens (which I realize those aren't). If you don't know the term, Mondegreens are basically misheard or misinterpreted lyrics; it comes from a woman who for years thought the lyrics to an old Scottish ballad were "Oh, they have slain the Earl of Morray and Lady Mondegreen". They weren't; the actual lyrics were "Oh, they have slain the Earl of Morray and laid him on the green". A couple of other classics are "The ants are my friends/ They're blowing in the wind" and "The girl with colitis goes by." We've all done this at some point; here's a couple of my favorites. Feel free to share yours.

1. An old girlfriend of mine from college had a good one from a song by Simple Minds--remember them? They were an earnest bunch, and made clangy, anthemic pop songs that sounded like a bit like they were mixed by Phil Spector's talented dog. They seemed to hang out for a while, waiting for an entire arena of screaming fans to be built around them, but unfortunately, only John Hughes showed up. Anyway, their song "Alive and Kicking," a typically hollow, boxy song, was continually heard by my girlfriend as "I Like It Kinky." Sadly, she herself did not, as I recall, particularly like it kinky.

2. This one is mine. My friend M. had, one night, cooked me dinner at her place, and was driving me home after an excellent feast. We listened to the radio, and presently a Filter song came on. Now, for some reason, I like Filter, despite the fact that I realize that they are the answer to the question nobody asked: "Who will fill in for Tesla when the 90s roll around?" Anyway, I turned up the radio and began lustily singing along: "That's why I say 'Hey man, nice shirt! What a nice shirt, man!' " M. turned to look at me. She said, "Wha- . . . what did you say?" I sat there silently like a crushed bug; something was wrong. She cackled at me. "Nice shirt? The song is called 'Hey Man, Nice Shot!' " She swerved dangerously as the laughs kept coming. I muttered sullenly, "Fuck. I always thought those were some pretty twee lyrics for such a menacing song."

Tuesday, 15 April
Stately Melodies That Will Not Be Heard

After work, the fiancee and I met up with the wonderful band who is playing at our wedding (the cooler-than-piss folks in Saeta, whom you should check out if you're in Seattle or anywhere else in the universe) to discuss, uh, the music for the wedding. It went pretty well, although I sure find myself getting shot down a fucking lot. It doesn't seem fair. Who wouldn't want to hear some of these songs at a damn wedding?

Fear's "Beef Baloney," for example. I've mentioned this before, but it just sticks in my craw that this one gets so many veins popping. Why shouldn't I be able to croon this to my new bride as we glide along the mosh pit?

She don't like salami, she don't want pastrami
She don't want a chicken, she don't want a roast
She just wants her double dose of

Beef, beef, beef! Beef baloney!
Beef, beef, beef! Beef baloney!

I mean, what the fuck is the problem? Is it wrong to want a classy wedding?

Or something by legendary Manchester outfit The New Fast Automatic Daffodils. I was thinking one of their numbers for the processional, like "You Were Lying When You Said You Loved Me." That would be impressive. Then some goob would stage-whisper, "Jesus, what the hell is this awful music?" And I'd scream, "It's the legendary Manchester outfit The New Fast Automatic Daffodils, you tool!" Then he'd feel pretty stupid, and I'm totally aces, because I clearly know my shit, or at least behave as if I do when in fact I don't, which is just as good.

Another one that went into the dumper was The Holy Modal Rounders' "Boobs A Lot," which I just don't fucking get, and it saddens me, because it speaks to the truth in my heart: I do like boobs, a lot. Why must we hate the truth? It's a crying shame.

They all beat the shit out of Pachelbel's Canon in D is all I'm saying.

Thursday, 13 March
Lyric Poetry

Yesterday the fiancee picked me up from work, and we were driving home, the radio playing. Suddenly Wang Chung's "Dance Hall Days" started up, and I of course was mindlessly singing along, when I suddenly thought, "These are the dumbest lyrics ever." Look:

Take your baby by the hair
And pull her close and there there there
Take your baby by the ears
And play upon her darkest fears

What? Oh, well. I'm nothing if not agreeable, so I did in fact grab my fiancee by the ears and then poured a cupful of live spiders down her shirt. Well, in my mind I did. But there's more:

So take your baby by the wrist
And in her mouth an amethyst

Hot damn! So I released her ears and pried open the fiancee's jaws. Jackpot! A shiny amethyst! I knew I had me a great gal.

Of course, these are not actually the stupidest lyrics ever. They're just pretty damn stupid. The worst lyrics ever is of course going to be a pretty subjective topic, and everyone will have their own opinion. While thinking about this, I rejected the obvious choices, like Alanis Morrissette or (as was suggested to me) Leonard Nimoy just because their lyrics are so obviously witless and bad. I also passed over things like "Where Have All the Cowboys Gone?"--which I consider to be the most heinous song ever perpetrated on an innocent public--as well as skull-clutchers like the entire oeuvre of the Indigo Girls. So it's all kind of arbitrary, but I just thought for a while about the relative terribleness of certain song lyrics that I think have gone unremarked on.

But before I leave off the Wanging Chungers, I do want to point out that I found a fucking great Mondegreen that someone had about that song. Someone posted somewhere that they had always heard the lyrics this way:

Take your baby by the ears,
and play upon her doggie spheres

Which is, you know, the best thing ever; it's going onto my tombstone to baffle untold later generations. It's like something out of the i ching.

Anyway. So I just was kind of free-associating with the idea of bad lyrics, when I remembered an old song from college days by that deathless old bastard Malcolm McLaren called, wrenchingly, "Something's Jumpin' in Your Shirt." McLaren at his most winsomely affecting, don't you think? Check out the lyrics:

No matter what I do, no matter what I say
My t-shirt's changed since yesterday
I look into the mirror and my t-shirt's got a mark
I guess it's just because my life is falling apart
But I felt something hurting
And a boy said,
There's somethin jumpin!
Jumpin in my shirt
Something's jumpin, jumpin in your shirt
Something's jumpin, does it really hurt?
Something's jumpin, my hearts on red alert
Walk the body! Walk the body!

Oh my god! It's like . . . Faulkner! I really, really like the t-shirt-as-life-barometer or whatever the hell it means. These lyrics are so awful, they really just make me very happy. Walk the body! Okay! I don't even know what the fuck that means, but I'll try it! Something's jumpin' in your shirt! Is it your heart? No, I think it's clear that we're talking about boobs. God, what a great, great bunch of horrible lyrics.

But that's a pretty obscure song. How about MOR mainstay Toto? They had a pretty big hit with the chugging, faceless "Africa." Read on!

I hear the drums echoing tonight
But she hears only whispers of some quiet conversation
She's coming in 12:30 flight
The moonlit wings reflect the stars that guide me towards salvation
I stopped an old man along the way,
Hoping to find some long forgotten words or ancient melodies
He turned to me as if to say, "Hurry boy, it's waiting there for you"

That's not so bad. I mean, it's insipid and meaningless, but not the worst ever, though you can see where Mr. Mister was getting inspiration from. It makes no sense, of course: if she's flying in, why are the moonlit wings reflecting the stars guiding him towards salvation? Or is he on the plane? Is that where he stopped the old man "along the way?" Never mind, no time! Hurry, boy!

It's gonna take a lot to drag me away from you
There's nothing that a hundred men or more could ever do
I bless the rains down in Africa
Gonna take some time to do the things we never had
The wild dogs cry out in the night
As they grow restless longing for some solitary company
I know that I must do what's right
As sure as Kilimanjaro rises like Olympus above the Serengeti

Oh, what dizzying poetic heights! I particularly like the total creative surrender implied in the "hundred men or more" line. Hmmm . . . what's a big, big number? More than a hundred! Brilliant. What the fuck do the rains in Africa have to do with anything anyway, and why would you bless them? All you're doing is irritating those wild dogs (huh?), restless for whatever "solitary company" could possibly be. I'd be restless too. But the final line brings it all home. You know what a beautiful mountain is like? Another mountain.

I know I'm not exactly going after big game here, but hey, like I said, I've just been brain-dumping. But I must say, it's time to bring out the big one; I've been waiting to find something that competes with the next song in terms of sheer fucking awfulness. It so clearly shoots for straight-faced Bukowskian hard-knuckle poeticality, and so spectacularly fails, I really find it kind of breathtaking. It's worth quoting the entire mind-ripping thing, starting with the ass-tastic title. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the lyrics of Live:

Insomnia and the Hole in the Universe

my brother kicked his feet to sleep
my brother kicked his feet to sleep
my brother kicked his feet to sleep
and i sang the dirge song

my brother never missed a beat
my brother kicked his feet to sleep, sweet feet
my brother kicked his feet to sleep
and i sang the dirge song

Angel, don't you have some bagels in my oven?
Lady, don't you know a man when you see one?
Crazy lady with the shiny shoes, where are you?
Kick you feet and calm the space that makes
you hollow

little swami's got his bowl to eat
little swami always walks his beat, sweet feet
little swami's got his bowl to eat
and i sing the dirge song

it's amazing how they come to see
the little swami with his bowl to eat, sweet feet
the little swami only wears a sheet
and won't sing the dirge song

anal, tight-assed soldier with that dogged heart
put down your gun
we are ready to explode, we gotta take it smart
and take it slow

Holy fucking good golly! Sing the "dirge song," brother! I don't know what other kind of dirges there are, but oh well! Not that anything in there makes any fucking sense at all anyway! "Angel, don't you have some bagels in my oven?" I think we've all asked this at least once in our lives.

I mean . . . jesus. I really don't know what to do with all that. What's the cross-reference foot fetish going on with his brother and the hungry swami? Who's the poor soldier that gets sucker-punched at the end with the anal stuff? Maybe he should have kicked the space that made him hollow.

I fold. I mean, I just can't do any better than what Live has already done. I take my baby by the wrist. I sing the dirge song. Where have all the cowboys gone?

Africa.

Monday, 10 March
The Sounds of Violence

Saturday night, a friend celebrated her . . . mumble . . . something-or-other birthday, so we did what actors tragically often do: we gathered at a bar and performed the ancient ceremony known as karaoke. Different people have different reactions to this activity, usually ranging from "I want that person singing to burn to death right now," all the way to "I want everyone else in the world to burn to death right now." I understand. My own position is, "Singing in public is a scrotum-tightening ordeal of sheerest panic not unlike being attacked by rabid knife-brandishing gibbons."

But you have to understand that it's a little different going out with a bunch of actors (if you haven't already, in which case, you should do so if only as a bold anthropological experiment). Actors are, famously and correctly, known for characteristics like deranged binge-drinking; an almost pathological lack of shame; a desperate craving for attention, even of the most negative sort, which is unfortunately at odds with a gnawing fear that at any given moment, someone somewhere nearby is being slightly more entertaining than themselves; and finally, in some remarkable cases, actual singing talent. That last trait is of course subjective when brought to bear on karaoke, whose arrangements of any given song have been anesthetized, splayed open, gutted with a baling hook, filled back up with chewed cardboard, and then hastily half-revived and sent reeling back out into the world. Karaoke arrangements are like Gorey's doomed tatterdemalions: wan, utterly without hope, and about five seconds away from an awful death.

There are ways to deal with all this. Some actors are wonderful; their voices are perfect, and they rise above the insipid tripe oozing from the speakers behind them; they perform the song. But there are other people who take a different tack: they attack the song as if it had punched their kid sister in the face, and destroy it utterly. These are the people to be feared and locked cages and poked with sticks until science finds a way to understand them and then fuck with their brains cruelly, Clockwork Orange style, so they may one day be stopped.

Guess which group I'm writing about? There were some lovely performances that night, I'm sure, but their memories have been destroyed by the following people, all of whom I am, I should add, very fond of. Lest it seem otherwise.

First out of the gate on Saturday was T., who, evidently feeling that the world wasn't quite Hobbesian enough for his liking, lit into an eye-popping rendition of Lionel Richie's "All Night Long." It actually started out okay, which is to say as okay as conceivably possible, for about four lines, when he mystifyingly substituted "karate" for "karama" in the lyrics, and then started stalking the tiny stage making frightening karate moves, kicking the air and leaping around like a frog on a hot plate. Since T. is about nine feet tall and ganglier-than-thou, he looked an awful lot like the muppet Animal after a thorough macing. He continued singing, exhorting everyone to madly karate "ALL! NIGHT! LONG!" and, because the rest of us have a tender spot for such awful things, we sang along. By the end, he had an awful lot of people in the bar staring into their drinks, wondering what fiendish thing had been slipped in there by the clearly malevolent bar staff.

Not long after this fearful spectacle came C., who ominously prefaced his performance with a suspiciously sincere bit of spoken dribble: "This song is about America." Then the dire plonking strains of Phil Collins' "Another Day in Paradise," started polluting the air, and C. whipped his vocal cords into a frenzied yelping that approximated human noise. C. paid very little attention to the actual melody--itself a mixed blessing--and opted instead for the Kamikaze approach: he'd lift his voice up into a stratospheric whoop and then come divebombing down in a murderous assault on the helpless notes lying far below, which burst into flames and screamed piteously and C. shot past them straight into the ground. Occasionally, he would totally unneccessarily howl, "This song is about homelessness!" Actually, the way C. performed it, it could have been about autocannibalism or cataclysmic viral spread.

Not long after C. finished his clumsy autopsy on Mr. Collins' pithy social ruminations came the birthday girl, V. V. is one of the masters of this art form I've described, and I can honestly say that on one past occasion, her grim chemical-peel version of Kim Carnes' "Bette Davis Eyes" lifted me to another plane of existence; it was so otherworldly and horrific, it had me holding my sides laughing, otherwise I would have surely rushed the stage and impaled her on many forks. On this night too, she was mining the 80s, with her frontal assault on Pat Benetar's interminable "Love is a Battlefield." You knew where she was going almost immediately with the initial "Whoooaaoooaaaooo" banshee wail, because she already sounded like Diamanda Galas stuck in a taffy puller. V. continued along in this vein, paying absolutely no heed to the song's meter or rhythm, instead opting for a kind of Paul Harvey vs. Eric Bogosian dramatic interpretation: "Heartache to heartache . . . . . . . . . . WESTAND!" Her eyes bulging like Don Rickles undergoing electrotherapy. In the audience, the drinking rate redoubled itself, and the regulars in the bar were looking decidedly twitchy and haunted, like sentient lab rats, aware of their fate, but unable to do anything about it.

The last one I remember, however, is K. K. is also legendary for his talent for eviscerating perfectly good songs, though he didn't pick one on Saturday. No, again Mr. Phil Collins was selected for the old artistic cornholing, this time "Against All Odds," which, for terrible reasons known only to himself, K. began singing with the most offensively ridiculous and overblown Cajun accent imaginable. "Teee-aa-iike a lwoook a-et me NYAA-OOWWW!" he bleated, clutching the mic in both hands, eyes closed and head thrown back as if delivering the finest of gospel standards. "Thyeeeh's juzz'an EEE-OOMPTY SPYUZZ!" It was just ghoulish, the aural equivalent of diving into a swimming pool filled with dead dogs.

There was more that night, but those are certainly the highlights of horridly good fun. We had predictably emptied most of the rest of the bar by the time I left, and they weren't even done yet. So there's an idea of what you can expect if you go out singing karaoke with actors, or at least actors who are my friends, who are all troublingly disturbed individuals, and who wants it any other way?

Thursday, 27 February
Walk Away, Renee, and Take Skot With You

There are, I hope we can agree, certain places in the world where one feels comfortable: home, of course; perhaps the library; a favorite cafe; or maybe just in the arms of someone you love, or alternately, someone with vast amounts of money. Conversely, then, there are other places in the world that have the opposite effect: they make you uncomfortable, awkward, or, in the case of, say, Olive Garden, suicidal. These are some of the places that make me intensely uncomfortable, for varying reasons, and I think about them a lot, because I pass an example of some of them every day on my way to work.

First on the list are vinyl shops. That is to say, record stores, but you don't say that any more: vinyl shops. It's just as well not to call them "record stores," because those barely exist any more. When I think of "record stores," the mental picture I get is sort of like out of High Fidelity; a kind of run-down fucked up sort of broken-homey place owned by man-boys who don't particularly care if you wander around the aisles for six days at a stretch so long as you don't do something stupid, like talk to them. These are going the way of the dodo, and what's replacing them are . . . awful. They have baffling, specially coded store names designed to give a minimum of information as to what they could possibly be selling: "Set Oscillator" or "Cathodella" or "David Cronenberg's Icy Touch of Retail." Now I'll admit that these are at least a bit more euphonious than, oh, "Sam Goody," but look at what a paltry statement that is. You can at least manage a warm feeling at the prospect of stealing CDs from something so lame as "Sam Goody," but you suspect if you try anything of the sort at a vinyl shop, they will somehow impregnate you with angry, pinching nanobots in the night, and you will die a shuddering mass of broken nightmares.

I don't even contemplate going into these joints, not the least of which is because I have no interest in their products, despite the fact that I own a turntable. I don't know who the fuck any of these groups are, or when I do, they are unrecognizable. Hey, Basement Jaxx, "Where's Your Head At"! I know that! No, you don't. Pick it up. "12 Inch Gass Huffer Bitch Remix featuring Gwen Stefani." WHAT? Who wants that? Judging by the sheened, leathered, incredibly hip people all standing around listening on brushed-steel headphones, they do. The thing is, they never look like they're enjoying what they're listening to. They look more like pathologists, trying to discover some malignant pattern buried in the sounds they are hearing. GUYS! I can tell you that: it's Gwen Stefani.

Speaking of cool people and terrifying music, that brings me to dance joints. Now I don't want to sound like a total curmudgeon, because I really, really do understand why people would like dance clubs: well, they like to dance, right? And it always looks pretty cathartic for those out there on the floor, making with the air-fucking and sweating it up and generally just cutting loose. That's cool; I get that. But it's reaaaally not my bag. For one thing, I dance like something out of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, and for another, I can only take the whump-whump-whump for so long before I feel like I'm caught in a gigantic ventricle of some alien beast, though probably of European heritage.

I should also confess that the last time I was at one of these for an actual entire evening, it was pretty miserable. It was many Halloweens ago, and someone had lent me a Star Trek: Next Generation uniform replica, and with a little makeup and hair gel, I made a pretty outstanding Data. The plan was to go to Neighbors, a gay-oriented dance club with a bunch of friends, which we did. I was apprehensive but willing as we went inside, but I knew pretty much immediately that this was Not For Me. There were people everywhere, and I don't do crowds well at all, and the music was almost supernaturally loud; as my friends all ran screaming to the dance floor, I excused myself to the table farthest in the corner and sat. Because of this, everyone else shoved their bags and purses and wallets on me, a logistical puzzle I solved by dumping all the smaller bags into one large bag. Now I looked like Data Clampett, waiting forlornly for the rest of the family to strap his shit on top of the car. This was, by now, clearly going to be intolerable without a drink or nine, so I left a coat on my chair and went to the bar.

Now I began to see the error of my costume. It fight tightly, and now I was wending my way through hordes of mostly men, some in costumes still illegal in Georgia, and the obvious began happening. They grabbed me stupid. I mean, they just mauled me, and why not? It's Halloween, it's a gay bar, and here's a kid who wore skin-tight Lycra: I might as well have put a sign on my back reading FRESH MEAT. I finally made it to the bar, where I waited for the most current geological age to end before being served. Noticing this vast temporal span involved in getting one lousy drink, I did the obvious, and ordered six. The bartender made them, and screamed something in Farsi at me. I yelled, "GABLAPPA!?!" Or at least that's what he heard, because of the deafening din. After a bit more of this silliness, I finally realized that he wanted money for the drinks; he was screaming, "FIFTY-FOUR DOLLARS!" Jesus Christ on a skateboard. The drinks were nine bucks apiece. I had exactly twenty-five dollars left after the cover charge, and didn't feel like howling this dire information back to the already impatient bartenders. Then I remembered that I had everyone else's wallets, those deserting bastards! So I merrily robbed everyone and bought my drinks, reasoning (correctly) that they would be too blasted to notice later. Then I made my way through the dread Gauntlet of Probing Fingers, thinking dourly that at least if I had raging testicular lesions, someone would at least notice and tell me, allowing me an early treatment that could save my life. And I sat there the rest of the night, getting utterly bombed on ill-gotten, watery drinks.

So maybe it wasn't so bad after all. But it certainly didn't make me want to go back. I certainly know I don't want to go back now: I'm much older. Probably nobody would grab me. And that, ironically enough, would probably depress me even more. Then Gwen Stefani would come on, and I'd think, "Jesus Christ. I'd rather be at the Olive Garden."

Friday, 07 February
Obscure Musical Milestones, In No Order

First album ever purchased: Abba's Greatest Hits

First album ever quiescently listened to purely because a girl I liked enjoyed it, which was torture, because I found the music so terrible, and the artist's name so mockable, but you undergo these things when you like a girl and hope that maybe something will happen, but needless to say nothing ever did: Peabo Bryson (title forgotten)

First album bought with at least dim understanding that though I enjoyed it, I knew somehow that it was really total garbage: Sigue Sigue Sputnik, Flaunt It!

First album listened to obsessively that has no rational explanation in the context of my personal tastes: Soundtrack, Jesus Christ Superstar

Second album listened to obsessively that has no rational explanation in the context of my personal tastes: Switched On Bach

First song ever sobbingly and drunkenly requested of a radio DJ to be played at 2:30 am in the wake of a horrible breakup, and which was indeed played, after which I called the DJ back to even more sobbingly and drunkenly thank him for playing, a memory which causes me searing psychological agony: Phish, "Fast Enough For You"

First album ever bought by an unknown band, a decision which was viciously mocked by my friend Nick because he thought the band members had idiotic names, which they did, but I turned out to be prescient, because they went on to be horrifically popular, and hey, it's a pretty good album, so I got to eventually viciously mock Nick right back for years, and pretty much just lorded it over him for being so short-sighted: Guns 'N Roses, Appetite for Destruction

First album listened to which actually, literally, made me feel like at that moment my life was changing in some undefinable way: Who's Next

First album purchased in a frenzy of sudden need because of one single song playing over the store's stereo even though I had never heard of the band because I grew up in fucking Idaho where popular culture is anything but: New Order, Substance (For the record, the song was "Ceremony," which interestingly, many years later, in another record store, was again playing over the stereo, only this time it was a cover version by Galaxie 500, and I was again consumed with need, and immediately bought their 4-CD box set on the spot, basically because I am hopeless.)

First album bought for only one song on the baseless assumption that the rest of the album would be as great as the hit single, but of course was terrible and now this band is a punchline: T'pau

First album to ever provoke a friendship-threatening argument spanning many weeks, ultimately culminating in an uneasy truce where I realized, simply and sadly, that I now felt that the friend in question was somehow diminished by failing to appreciate it: XTC, Skylarking

First album ever purchased, and subsequently enjoyed until one day, out of the blue, I was struck with the sudden surety of the notion that it actally fucking sucked, bad, and was in fact, unhealthy to listen to, and was summarily violently destroyed: Billy Squier, Emotions in Motion

First song to start playing in the unstoppable jukebox in my mind after writing that: "Everybody Wants You."

Tuesday, 28 January
Less Obvious Ways to Die While Driving Around

Since the fiancee and I bought a (used, tired) car last June, things have been superb. She doesn't have to take two buses to get to work and I . . . get to feel happy that she doesn't have to take two buses to get to work. No, of course I'm being a doink; it's very handy to have, and has spared our friends many ride-pleading phone calls.

One less salutary effect it has had on my life, however, is via the tape deck. Car radios are unpredictable and potentially life-threatening. One can be tooling along innocently only to be suddenly assaulted by the awful VOICE OF A DJ, and what happens? You burst into flames. Or worse, you could really fuck the dog and stumble onto a talk radio station. There you are, haplessly trying to avoid, say, Carly Simon, when this comes loping out of your speakers: "Liberals are all a bunch of Commie hand-wringing fairies!" (I may be paraphrasing.) What do you do then? There's not much you can do: you pull over and quietly die.

And who needs that? You can't just die whenever. How's that going to play with the boss? "Where were you yesterday?" "I inadvertantly listened to talk radio and died."

So hence the tape deck. But since all my tapes date to circa 1981-1989, the listening choices are thin. And horribly catastrophic: I stared down at my old collection with mounting horror a while back. Flesh for Lulu? The Screaming Blue Messiahs? Voivod? What the fuck? This was ghastlier than I had anticipated. The Woodentops? I fold. The idea of trying to listen to even a few songs, much less an entire tape, by any of these awful bands was inconceivable.

But then I hit on it: mixed tapes! I made many mix tapes while in college, and they are composed of a whole bunch of terrible songs by a revolving set of terrible bands! I can handle that. Or so I thought. Here's a sampling of some songs off of a tape I was listening to recently. Notice how well they all hang together stylistically.

Clan of Xymox, "Phoenix of My Heart"
Nitzer Ebb, "Lightning Man"
Paul Simon, "The Coast"
Jesus Jones, "Lost in Space"
Revolting Cocks, "Attack Ships on Fire"
Danielle Dax, "Whistling for His Love"
The Smiths, "How Soon is Now?"
Lou Reed, "Fly Into The Sun"
Durutti Column, "Red Shoes"

What a depressing list. Not that there aren't some good songs in there, but they should never share the same car. Fuck, they shouldn't share the same freeway. Also, there are some fabulously awful songs in there: Jesus Jones? Better, a Jesus Jones song that nobody ever heard of? What's wrong with me? Oh, and the Xymox song? It's a terribly squishy synth-mope song that sounded dated about fifteen minutes after it was recorded in the studio, but it takes the Uncontrollable Crying and Vomiting Index sharply upwards at the end, where it segues, bafflingly and hideously, I shit you not, into a gooey, cooing cover of The Troggs' "Wild Thing." It really must be heard to be believed. And then never, ever heard again.

Much like talk radio.










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